95 pages 3 hours read

Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1939

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 1939, And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by Agatha Christie, best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. With over 100 million copies sold, And Then There Were None is the world’s best-selling crime novel as well as one of the best-selling books of all time. It has had more adaptations than any other work by Agatha Christie, including television programs, films, radio broadcasts, and most notably, Christie’s 1943 stage adaptation of the same name. This study guide references the 2011 e-book edition published by HarperCollins. Readers should be aware that this novel has been reprinted from the original title and has been updated to remove racist and offensive language from the narrative.

Plot Summary

The novel is set in the 1930s, the same time period in which the novel was published. It is told through a limited omniscient third-person narrator, which allows the readers to enter each character’s conscience as they wrestle with guilt, blame, and fear.

The novel opens with eight strangers unknown to each other on their way to Soldier Island: Justice Lawrence Wargrave, Vera Claythorne, Captain Philip Lombard, Emily Brent, General Macarthur, Dr. Armstrong, Anthony Marston, and Mr. William Blore. Soldier Island is shrouded in mystery. Rumor has it that an unknown millionaire by the name of Mr. Owen recently purchased the mansion on Soldier Island. Each of the eight people on their way to the island believe they were invited by Mr. Owen for different reasons, such as meeting up with old acquaintances or fulfilling a job Mr. Owen supposedly is hiring them for.

The guests are greeted on the island by the housekeepers, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers. Mr. and Mrs. Rogers only arrived on the island two days earlier and like the rest of the guests, have not met Mr. Owen, the owner of the island. The Owens wrote to Mr. and Mrs. Rogers to inform them that they would not arrive until the next day. Mrs. Rogers shows the guests to their rooms where they notice that they each have a copy of the nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldier Boys” sitting on their mantles. There is also a china set of 10 little soldier figurines on the dining room table.

That night, the guests are relaxing after a satisfying meal when they hear an unsettling gramophone recording that accuses each of them by name of murder. The guests are shaken and proceed to compare their invitations to the island. They realize that none of them know who the mysterious Mr. Owen is. Everyone except Anthony Marston agrees that they should leave the island as soon as possible the next morning. Anthony Marston, who is fascinated by the mystery and believes they should stay to solve it, takes a sip of his drink, and chokes to death. The guests discover his whiskey was poisoned, but they conclude it must have been a suicide and Anthony Marston put it in his drink himself. That night, Mr. Rogers notices one of the 10 soldier figurines is missing from the dining room table.

In the morning, it is discovered that Mrs. Rogers died in her sleep. The cause of her death is unknown, but the fact that there have been two deaths within 24 hours seems too coincidental. Lombard believes that Anthony Marston’s death was not suicide, but murder. He points out that both Anthony Marston and Mrs. Rogers’s deaths are exactly like the deaths of the tenth and ninth soldier in the nursery rhyme. He concludes that they are trapped on the island with a madman, and he, Blore, and Dr. Armstrong agree to team up and search the island together. After a thorough search of the house and the entire island, they are forced to conclude that there is no one else on Soldier Island except themselves.

The guests gather in the afternoon for lunch when Dr. Armstrong finds General Macarthur dead on the shore, dead from a blow to the head. Justice Wargrave calls for a group meeting where he concludes that there is no other explanation for the deaths of Anthony Marston, Mrs. Rogers, and General Macarthur: There is a murderer on Soldier Island, and it must be one of them.

The next day, Mr. Rogers is missing. The remaining six find him dead in the washhouse where he was chopping sticks for the kitchen fire. He was hit in the back of the head with an axe. The guests grow more suspicious of one another and begin to form strong opinions on the murderer’s identity. Blore is certain it is Emily Brent, who was walking the island alone that morning, but his theory is promptly dashed when Miss Brent is the next to die from a hypodermic syringe to the neck.

Justice Wargrave calls another meeting where they each disclose what firearms and possibly lethal drugs they brought with them to the island. Dr. Armstrong admits that he brought a hypodermic syringe, as is common for doctors to do when traveling. When he tries to show them where the syringe is in his suitcase, it is gone. The same is true of Lombard’s revolver. He brought one to the island, but when he begrudgingly opens his bedroom drawer to show them where it is, it is also gone. Justice Wargrave decides it would be best if they gather any firearms and drugs they brought with them and lock them up.

That evening, Vera decides to go up to her room to take a shower. When she walks into her bedroom, she feels what she thinks is a cold, clammy hand at her throat. She screams, and the gentlemen run upstairs to investigate. It turns out that it was not a hand that grabbed Vera, but a wet piece of seaweed hanging from her ceiling. During the chaos, Blore, Lombard, Dr. Armstrong, and Vera notice that Justice Wargrave is not with them. They all run back downstairs where they are horrified to find Justice Wargrave, sitting up in his chair, a gunshot wound to his forehead. He is wrapped in a scarlet curtain that previously went missing from the bathroom and is wearing a judge’s wig made from Emily Brent’s knitting yarn. Dr. Armstrong takes a closer look and declares him dead.

That night, Blore hears something outside his room. When he goes to investigate, he sees someone walking downstairs and out the front door. He knocks on Vera, Lombard, and Dr. Armstrong’s doors, and finds that Dr. Armstrong is missing. Lombard and Blore tell Vera to stay in her room and lock the door while they search the island for Armstrong, who they conclude must be the murderer. They return and tell Vera that Armstrong appears to have vanished from the island completely.

After another unsuccessful search of the island the next morning, the remaining three decide to stay outside to avoid possible danger inside the house. They discuss the nature behind Dr. Armstrong’s disappearance. Lombard believes Dr. Armstrong is dead, which Blore finds convenient because he believes that Lombard is the killer. Vera tells them they are both wrong. She thinks that Dr. Armstrong is a red herring and is hiding somewhere on the island waiting to kill them. Blore decides to go inside for lunch, and shortly after, Vera and Lombard find him dead on the terrace, his head crushed by the clock shaped like a bear that was on Vera’s mantlepiece. Assuming Dr. Armstrong must still be alive and be the killer, Vera and Lombard decide to wait on the cliffs until morning comes. It is then that they see Dr. Armstrong’s body, crushed between two rocks on the shore, drowned. Vera and Lombard slowly look up at one another, assuming the other must be the murderer. Vera steals Lombard’s gun and shoots him. She walks back into the house, overcome with relief and peace, thinking that she is the only one left. When she gets to her room, she sees a noose hanging from her ceiling. Then she remembers the final line in the nursery rhyme: “He went and hanged himself and then there were none….” (222). She steps onto the chair and puts the noose around her neck and hangs herself.

The policemen in the epilogue, Sir Thomas Legge and Inspector Maine, are completely befuddled by the 10 unsolved murders on Soldier Island. It isn’t until a fisherman finds a manuscript in the form of a message in a bottle and turns it over to the police that they have their answer. The manuscript turns out to be an elaborate confession by Justice Wargrave. He writes that ever since he was a child, he always had a strong lust to kill but also a strong sense of justice. He therefore went into the legal profession where he could fulfill his desire to see the guilty brought to justice. Eventually, sentencing the guilty to death was not enough and he couldn’t resist his desire to murder the guilty himself. He wanted his murders to be elaborate and theatrical, so he began to craft his plan of luring 10 people to Soldier Island under the pretense of visiting Mr. Owen. Upon arrival, he would put his plan into action and murder each guest in the style of the “Ten Little Soldiers” nursery rhyme. He selected his victims by choosing those who committed murders that were unpunishable by law.

To eliminate himself from the list of suspects, he needed to fake his own death. He tricked Dr. Armstrong into helping him by convincing him that faking his death would allow him to catch the murderer. They planned to rendezvous that night, which is when Justice Wargrave pushed him over the cliff to his death. Justice Wargrave writes that now that Vera Claythorne has hung herself, as he suspected she would, the final step in his plan is to kill himself. He will lay in his bed and shoot himself in the head by rigging up the revolver to an elastic band. When his body is discovered, it will be exactly as it was before, with a gunshot to the forehead, like the mark of Cain.

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